The religious leaders' letter to the nation follows in full:
To the Voters of New Zealand
At the upcoming General Election, you will be asked to vote in a binding referendum on the End of Life Choice Act 2019. We, the undersigned religious leaders, wish to share with you our grave concerns about the final form of this Act.
We speak out of our extensive experience of caring for the dying. We know the effectiveness of compassionate end of life palliative care – care that is able to address not just the physical suffering of people who are dying, but also their emotional, spiritual and psychological suffering, as well as that of whānau and friends.
Medical practices that are part of good end-of-life care – ceasing treatment, Do Not Resuscitate Orders, Advanced Care Directives and turning off life support – are already legal and part of our health care choices and are not part of this proposed law.
The referendum question is not about the desirability of some form of ‘assisted dying’. Rather, we are being asked to vote on a specific piece of legislation – the End of Life Choice Act. The key consideration for all of us is the robustness and safety of this Act. Our concerns are about the lack of safeguards in the Act and the dangers it would present.
We note that the Act differs in the quality of its processes and safeguards from other laws overseas:
- The Act is not just designed for a small number of hard cases. It is broader than laws in Victoria and the United States because it allows both assisted suicide and euthanasia.
- This is not an Act of ‘last resort’ – there is no requirement to try effective treatments or palliative care. There is also no corresponding right in the proposed law for people to access palliative care.
- People will be able to access an assisted death without being in any physical pain. Overseas research shows people choose assisted death primarily out of a fear of being a burden and/or being disabled.
- The Act does not require a patient to discuss their decision with a family member or other significant person. All eligible persons, 18 years and over, could choose an assisted death without family knowing.
- There is no mandatory psychological assessment or effective screening for depression. Research shows that requests for an assisted death are commonly influenced by depression, something that is extremely difficult to detect and often mistaken for ‘appropriate sadness’.
- The NZ Medical Association and Hospice NZ, who oppose the Act, share concerns that it lacks processes enabling clinicians to be confident a person is making their request free of pressure from others.
- The two doctor ‘safeguard’ is weak; neither of the doctors need to have met the person previously.
- There is no mandatory stand-down period as there is in other countries - under the Act, a person could be dead less than 4 days after diagnosis.
- Unlike laws overseas, there is no requirement for independent observers or witnesses at any stage.
- The Act does not require a person to be assessed for competency at the time when the lethal dose is being administered, as is the case with laws overseas.
The referendum is binding, meaning the Act cannot be changed - it will be enacted in its current form.
We are also concerned that the practice of assisted suicide and euthanasia will become normalised over time, leading to a broadening of the criteria for eligibility as seen overseas. There is also evidence showing that people choose assisted death because of a lack of palliative care options. There is a risk this will also happen in New Zealand because effective palliative care is not yet universally available to all.
We acknowledge the importance of exercising freedom of choice. At the same time there is a need to balance individual choice with the common good of society. On balance, we believe that the significant weaknesses and dangers of the Act strongly outweigh the benefits that supporters of euthanasia seek.
Even those who favour some form of assisted death have many reasons to Vote NO to the End of Life Choice Act.
Archbishop Philip Richardson
Primate, Senior Bishop of the New Zealand Pakeha Dioceses and Bishop of Diocese of Waikato & Taranaki
Bishop Jay Behan
Church of Confessing Anglicans, Aotearoa New Zealand
Pastor Steve Burgess
Regional Director, C3 Churches Pacific
Commissioner Mark Campbell
Territorial Commander, Salvation Army, New Zealand Territory
Bishop Patrick Dunn
President of the NZ Catholic Bishops Conference; Catholic Diocese of Auckland
Dr Mustafa Farouk QSM
President, The Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ (FIANZ)
Rev Tavita Joseph Filemoni
General Secretary, Wesleyan Samoan Methodist Church of New Zealand & Australia
National Leader of the Baptist Churches of NZ
Rev. Brett Jones
National Superintendent (Acting), Wesleyan Methodist Church of NZ
Right Reverend Fakaofo Kaio
Moderator, The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand
New Zealand Greek Orthodox Church
Rev Dr Stuart Lange
National Director, New Zealand Christian Network
Pastor David MacGregor
National Director, Vineyard Churches Aotearoa NZ; Senior Pastor, Grace Vineyard Church Christchurch
Rev Andrew Marshall
National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand
Pastor Peter Mortlock
Senior Pastor, City Impact Churches of NZ
Archbishop Don Tamihere
Anglican Primate, Pihopa o Aotearoa and Pihopa o Te Tairawhiti
Rev Setaita Taumoepeau K. Veikune
President, Methodist Church of New Zealand
Pastor Adam White
Leader, New Life Churches of New Zealand
Bishop Mark Whitfield
Lutheran Church of New Zealand
Bishop Ross Bay
Anglican Diocese of Auckland
Bishop Steven Benford
Anglican Diocese of Dunedin
Bishop Peter Carrell
Anglican Diocese of Christchurch
Cardinal John Dew
Catholic Archdiocese of Wellington
Bishop Michael Dooley
Catholic Diocese of Dunedin
Bishop Justin Duckworth
Anglican Diocese of Wellington
Pastor Max Faletutulu
Senior Pastor, Titahi Bay Community Church, Wellington
Bishop Michael Gielen
Catholic Diocese of Auckland - Auxiliary
Bishop Andrew Hedge
Anglican Diocese of Waiapu
Bishop Stephen Lowe
Catholic Diocese of Hamilton
Bishop Steve Maina
Anglican Diocese of Nelson
Pastor Kaio Mamea
The Light of All Nations Church, Wellington
Bishop Paul Martin SM
Catholic Diocese of Christchurch
Bishop Te Kitohi Pikaahu
Pihopatanga o Te Taitokerau
Bishop Waitohiariki Quayle
Pihopatanga o Te Upoko o Te Ika
Rt Revd Dr Eleanor Sanderson
Assistant Anglican Bishop of Wellington
Bishop Richard Wallace
Pihopatanga o Te Waipounamu
Rev Brian Walsh
Local Administrator, Catholic Diocese of Palmerston North